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  • Writer's pictureCristina Waldner

A Girl Who Rides Pt. 1

Riding my Barbie wheelchair in the park

I've always had a love/hate relationship with wheelchairs. Considering that I would literally be nowhere without one, I still have a hard time embracing it with open arms. They're big. Bulky. Sometimes loud, and very... noticeable. For a girl that loves to blend in, they sure make you stand out. Or should I say sit?

For my first ever blog series, I will be chronicling my experiences through a wheeled lens. I've had three power chairs so far and am in the process of getting my fourth. I actually spent Monday afternoon test driving my new power chair so it seemed like a great time to share this process with you. Getting this new wheelchair has been a long, painful process and I was going to write about what a headache it's been, starting with my first fitting in October 2014 (yes, it's been that long!). But then I remembered a quote from Hitch, my favorite romcom of all time.

Hitch: You can't really know where you're going until you know where you've been.

Security Guard: Amen, brother.

Thus, I need to take you on a wheelchair drive down memory lane, reflecting on the past. Each chair represents a different stage in my life and has a significant meaning attached to the chair. For me, a wheelchair is not just a collection of nuts and bolts and electronics. It is a way of being, a way of living, a way of looking at the world. Literally and figuratively.

So... let's roll!

  1. Freedom, Cut Me Loose

My sisters and I at the park

My first wheelchair was a pink and purple Barbie chair. I got it when I was 3 years old and it was just about the coolest ride you have ever seen. I absolutely loved the chair. It was fast. It was cute. It was comfortable. And it gave me the freedom to be in charge of where I wanted to go instead of being pushed around in a baby stroller. I had never been able to walk so the thought that I could actually direct my own movement was thrilling. This pic shows my first outing in my new wheels, with my two older sisters being right there with me ready to take on the world... or at least the duck pond at St. Vital Park.

Even as a two year old, I knew that being dependent on others really sucked. I remember feeling anxious that I couldn't just go where I wanted to go. Now that I think about it, this time in my life prior to getting a wheelchair must be the reason I have such anxiety about a manual wheelchair; I hated being pushed around.

Well, when I got my Barbie wheelchair, I had the world at my fingertips. With the push of a button and a flick of the wrist, I could go where ever this girl wanted to go. This sense of independence must have quickly gone to my head because it didn't take long before I drove off in a department store and got lost in the mall!

At first I was feeling emboldened, empowered, enticed by the thought of exploration... all of which lasted roughly 5 seconds until I was panicked that I couldn't find my mom!

She said she would be by the cash register.

Where was she?

I don't see her.


I just kept driving and driving around the store but feeling convinced that she must have left without me, I decided to head out into the mall. This is sounding more and more like a scene from Finding Nemo. I went off the reef even though she strictly told me not to and there I was, zooming along with a desperation like no other.

Just keep driving. Just keep driving. Just keep driving, driving, driving.

Thankfully a man who wasn't a creep finally stopped me and helped me find my mom but it felt awful, for both of us. While that was the last time I decided to go out on my own, it didn't stop me from having fun with my pink and purple rv.

Giving wheelchair rides to my friend, Eric

At this stage of the game, kids still thought my wheelchair was so cool and I loved giving my friends rides on the back. One Christmas party, I spent the entire time giving kids rides. One of my friends' legs even lifted off the back as I spun him around as fast as I could! It was a blast.

Going to Kindergarten was a big adventure for me and even though I didn't look like my classmates, it didn't matter. I could participate in games at recess and health class because it wasn't as much about physical skill as fun.

What's the time Mr. Wolf? 'Nuff said.

One ordinary morning at school, I needed to go to the bathroom so my educational assistant (EA) and I headed into the wheelchair accessible stall... or at least she did. In a split second, I saw a golden opportunity of a lifetime. The stall door was the type that swung open so when she went in, I backed out with lighting speed and did a kung fu turn to shut the door. Because I couldn't lock it from the outside, I used my chair to barricade the EA inside, all of which happened with her back turned to the door!

When she turned around, there I was. Parked solidly against the door on the outside while she was trapped inside. I had a cartoon-like menacing grin, which she could see through the slit of the door. She tried to talk me into backing up but there was no way I was going to give up so easily.

Several minutes must have passed because the Kindergarten teacher came looking for us. Having left 15+ students unattended, she was shocked at what she saw: a five year old in a pink and purple Barbie wheelchair trapping an EA inside the bathroom! I reluctantly backed up and the teacher ran inside the stall to see if the EA was alright.

Are you kidding me?! This was too good to be true! I backed up, kung fu'd the door again, and trapped them both in! Yup, I was a bad *** back then. They both had to get very strict with me before I retreated but it was So. Much. Fun.

Back in the day, I didn't care about being in a wheelchair. It was all I knew. No. It was more than that. It was special. I felt unique. Strong. Empowered. Free.

Those feelings, though, wouldn't last long until I started to realize the extent of my disability. What happened when I went into my next wheelchair would forever change the way I saw myself. Until next time...

- Crissi xo

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